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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/18/20

Elliot Abrams Tries to Tie Biden's Hands on Iran - Trita Parsi

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Elliot Abrams Tries to Tie Biden's Hands on Iran -- Trita Parsi Abrams, a true Darth Vader of U.S. foreign policy, is in the Middle East drumming up support for even harsher sanctions on Iran - in the midst of the pandemic ...
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Abrams, a true Darth Vader of U.S. foreign policy, is in the Middle East drumming up support for even harsher sanctions on Iran - in the midst of the pandemic that has killed tens of thousands. Trita Parsi joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news podcast.

Transcript:

The Associated Press reports that Elliott Abrams, one of the true Darth Vaders of U.S. foreign policy---

OK, that's me, not AP; now we're back to AP and the U.S. Special Representative for Iran, while on a
trip to the Middle East, insisted Thursday that a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions targeting Iran
would persist into the administration of Joe Biden, even as the president-elect has pledged to potentially
return America to Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. The Trump administration has made perhaps
its highest foreign policy objective weakening and, if possible, bringing down the government and ruling
circles of Iran. Trump's killing of the Iranian general Soleimani was an attempt to provoke Iran into a war,
a tactic that didn't work. Iran was also the target of the Bush-Cheney administration, who could not abide
a regional adversary with the capability of firing ballistic missiles at American troops and allies.
Obama's deal with Iran to limit its ability to develop nuclear weapons technology was a break with the
neocon agenda of regime change in Iran. It was an acceptance of Iran as a regional power, a role that
was strengthened by the disastrous Iraq war. Biden says he will return the US to that agreement and end
U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen.

So, why is Elliott Abrams, a man connected to the most aggressive foreign policy the last few decades,
touring the Middle East drumming up support for even more intense sanctions at a time of the Covid crisis
and tens of thousands of deaths in Iran? Does Trump still want to be a wartime president? Elliott Abrams
says while the military strike is not off the table, any suggestion that Trump is planning such a strike
against Iran is, quote, "Garbage." Well, do the neocons who have supported Biden over Trump, expect
something in return?

Now joining us is Trita Parsi, Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
and author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, A Single
Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran, and Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of
Diplomacy.
Thanks very much for joining us, Trita.

Trita Parsi
Thank you for having me.

Paul Jay
So, Trita, start with why you think Abrams is over there at this moment, right after the elections.

Trita Parsi
Well, the official reason and it's interesting that they haven't even tried to hide it is that he is there to
coordinate with the Israelis, the Saudis, and the Emirates in order to provide a flood of new sanctions that
will make it next to impossible their calculation for the Biden administration to go back to the nuclear
deal. These new sanctions will not be connected to Iran's nuclear program but will be based on human
rights abuses, missile technology, etc., and, as a result, will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for the
Biden administration to undo them, which would be necessary in order for the JCPOA [i.e., the Iran
nuclear deal] to be resurrected. And it reveals, incidentally, that all of this talk that sanctions were only a
means to be able to get to the negotiating table was always a complete lie. This was a tactic aimed at
bringing down the agreement and making diplomacy with Iran impossible. And when diplomacy with Iran
is impossible, for two countries that are in the same sphere, the likelihood of war dramatically increases.

Paul Jay
Well, if human rights are supposed to be the rationale for new sanctions, it's kind of ridiculous that the
Saudis are on the side of sanctioning. I mean, how could you even talk about human rights in Iran when
you're allied with the Saudis?

Trita Parsi
Indeed. I mean, at the end of the day, I think this administration made it quite clear and explicit. There
was a memo that was being circulated at the State Department's Office of Policy Planning, I believe,
written by Brian [Hook] the previous coordinator on Iran for Trump which essentially said human
rights abuses should be used as a weapon against America's enemies but we should not be complaining
about countries that are allied to the United States and that are abusing human rights. In some ways, it
was making explicit and more blatant what, frankly, had been standard American practice. But the United
States, unfortunately, already has a long record of instrumentalizing human rights and using it mostly
against countries that are opposing the US rather than using it equally against countries, whether they're
friends or foes of the United States.

Paul Jay
Why a new round of sanctions that are done in, we assume, the dying days of the Trump administration?
Trump doesn't seem to think so but a lot of the neocons, who are very aggressive towards Iran, seem to
think this is the end of Trump. Bolton's on television every other hour, on one channel or another, telling
Trump to step down and telling other Republicans not to support Trump in all this litigation and so on.
Certainly, Bolton is one of the more aggressive of the neocons towards Iran, but not the only one. And
other [neocons] have been really supporting Biden openly against Trump all along in this election
campaign. Some of the people in the Lincoln Project not all, but some of them are neocons. What are
they expecting from Biden? Will he undo these new sanctions or is he changing his approach to Iran as
part of some deal with these neocons?

Trita Parsi
It is too early to say. I think the signals that Biden have sent, however, have been clear: he intends to go
back to the agreement. We should also keep in mind that all of the Democratic candidates for president,
with the exception of one or two, pledged that they were going to go back to the agreement. It is part of
the Democratic platform to revive the JCPOA. I think there are challenges ahead, and there is clearly an
effort by the Trump administration to try to increase those challenges.
The idea is that because these [new] sanctions are not tied to the JCPOA, to the nuclear program, they
will make it more difficult for Biden to undo them as a result of an attempt to go back to the JCPOA. The
Iranians clearly will object and say, "You know, lifting all of those other nuclear sanctions are meaningless
if the very same economic punishment nevertheless still exists but just on a different basis."
I think in some ways the Trump people may have undermined themselves because they made it so
blatantly clear that ultimately, regardless of what type of legal pretext they use for the [new] sanctions, the
objective is to undo the nuclear deal. And that, I think, will create a lot of sympathy for the demand that
Biden lift all of these sanctions. It will help him politically, frankly, here in Washington. Otherwise, there
would probably have been opposition in some Democratic quarters if he were to lift sanctions that were
targeting the ballistic missile program. But now when it's so clear that those sanctions are only there to kill
the JCPOA, it may actually make it less problematic for him to lift them.

Paul Jay
Biden has to work pretty closely now with Chuck Schumer in the Senate. If they win these two seats in
Georgia, it's going to be by a hair that they control the Senate. And there is certainly no guarantee of that
[win]. Schumer and the people he's allied with in the Democratic Party were against the nuclear deal with
Iran. Is that going to affect Biden's approach to this?

Trita Parsi
I think less so than even last time, because at the end of the day, Schumer was in a complete minority
and progressive organizations like MoveOn promised that they would fund candidates in primaries to run
against people like Schumer and others who voted against it. We saw that Eliot Engel, who also voted
against the deal, lost his seat earlier this year in a primary. And when you take a look at the new
Democrats that are coming in, they are of a different orientation when it comes to these things. They've
been brought up thinking that the JCPOA is a major Democratic achievement. As a result, the sympathies
and the orientations of some of the more establishment Democrats are, I think, actually weaker even if
Chuck Schumer continues to control the Senate. He was in a minority last time on the JCPOA; he will
continue to be in the minority on the JCPOA if he continues to oppose it.

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